Friday Philosophy: gender identity and you

News out of West Virginia is that the State Senate passed a bill adding protection for sexual orientation (and age) to its anti-discrimination law.  While I applaud that, I also understand that it is not sufficient to protect the people most likely to be discriminated against.  And I don’t just mean transfolk.  I mean gays and lesbians…and even straight people…who do not perform their gender role to the liking of those who would discriminate.

A lot of folks just don’t get that.  A lot of people believe that transpeople are just out to get what they can for themselves and do not comprehend that in working for protections based on gender identity, we are concerned about you…and you…and you, too.

What people seem not to be able to accept is that we all have gender identities…every single one of us.

From day one, when a doctor looked between your legs and filled out a piece of paper to declare your sex, you have been programmed to grow up “appropriately” as a boy or a girl.  Very little choice was allowed on how you would grow up.

What you get instead is the illusion of choice.  Be who you are!  Be the best you can be!  

I remember that.  But I also know that parents fantasize about who their children are going to become and try their darnedest to help achieve that image, whether their children desire it or not.

Be who you want to be…as long as it is close to who I imagine who you should be.  And as long as you don’t push the boundaries of gender at all…because those gender boundaries disrupt the imaginings of the parents.

How many parents, upon learning that they have a child who is gay or lesbian, have as their first thought, “What did I do wrong?”  That one is usually closely followed by, “I’ll never have grandchildren.”

Trust me on this.  I’ve been a PFLAG parent for a lot of years and used to help moderate an online help list for PFLAG parents.  It happens very often.

Step beyond appropriate behavior and may God help you.  Sorry, scratch that.  God is against you, too.  Or at least too many people seem to think so.

So overly feminine boys and overly masculine girls get punished until they fall into line…or at least closer to it.  Meanwhile, overly masculine boys and overly feminine girls present no problems, apparently…at least until they do.

The result is bimodal presentation in the extremes being treated as the ideal.

I know that not everyone contributes to this.  And I know it is getting somewhat better.  But there is a long way to go.

Some of us have fought a difficult battle against this enculturation.  Some people manage to overcome some of it as they grow to adulthood.  But many of us accept it in total compliance as the way things are and the way things must be and are certain that nothing is ever going to change it.  And some people go further, thinking that nothing ever should change it.

And some people go so far as to assert their divine right to attack people who are too close to the boundaries, in one way or another.

A famous out lesbian in South Africa is subjected to “corrective rape” and murdered by a gang of men.  The Texas State Senate moves to strip from transitioning transfolk the right to vote.

You don’t have to be gay or lesbian or bi or trans to cross over the boundaries.  All that is required is that someone think you might be…or think that you look like you might be.

And all it takes is someone thinking you might be for them to fire your ass from a job…or, more likely, not hire you in the first place.

An Employment Non-Discrimination Act which doesn’t cover gender identity requires you to conform to the gender standards of employers.  It doesn’t matter if you are straight or gay, if gender identity is not covered, there is a loophole big enough for a whole slew of conservative businessmen to drive right through to deny you protection.


The Man:  “You’re fired.  You look like a queer.”

You:  “You can’t fire me because I am gay.”

The Man:  “I don’t care if you are gay or not.  You look queer.”

What is your response?

All it takes is for someone thinking he or she can’t tell your gender in order to deny you housing or entrance to a restaurant.  And that person would be entirely within their legal rights to do so.

Protection on the basis of sexual orientation does not protect the way you look…or the way someone else perceives you.  The people who have these perceptions derive them from mere assumption about what genitals you have.  

A whole heck of a lot of people don’t get that.  It’s not about your actual sex or gender.  It’s all about how you perform it.



We can only

truly know freedom

if we are aware

of the ways

we are in bondage

bound by a culture

which rigidly demands

our strict adherence

to fixed states



under penalty

of expulsion

or worse

and still manage

to reject

those chains

Are you free?

–Robyn Elaine Serven

–March 13, 2009


Skip to comment form

    • Robyn on March 13, 2009 at 23:02

    …and it doesn’t even include an ex-gay conference or BFSkinner’s piece last night about the numbers.

    I mean, I had fully intended to write about how protection on the basis of gender identity was for everyone, not just transfolk, but perhaps it didn’t deserve being done with this other stuff fogging my mind.

    By the way, is anyone else noting the most recent Firefox version being, shall we say, unstable?

  1. NION’s motto…

    All you have to do to qualify for Human Rights is to be human.

    No matter which bits are where.

    • Robyn on March 14, 2009 at 00:27

    …at the Orange.

  2. … write a little more about this?

    The result is bimodal presentation in the extremes being treated as the ideal.

    The whole concept of presentation as you write about it here is very difficult for me to understand past the surface of it.

    As an aside, I remember the day girls were allowed to wear pants both to school and work.  The majority chose pants.  Just came up in my mind as I was reading your essay.

  3. straight as a stick.  But what you say:

    But I also know that parents fantasize about who their children are going to become and try their darnedest to help achieve that image, whether their children desire it or not.

    is the biggest tragedy of my life.  I don’t think I even know what normal is for me.  Maybe you think you strayed from your original intent, but I think the universals come through just fine.

    Wonderful poem.  You get better and better.

Comments have been disabled.